So the first thing to notice is that I said alphabets. Plural. There are 4 that are used. Kanji--those characters borrowed from the Chinese (most of them have two possible readings--I won't go into that now). Then there is the Hiragana, the letters used to represent Japanese syllables. Next, the Katakana, a another syllabary system that the Japanese use to represent words borrowed from other languages. Then there are the occasional uses of Latin Alphabet and numerals. Writing in Japanese uses all four of these mixed together.
(This borrowed from Wikipedia:) Here is an example of a newspaper headline (from the Asahi Shimbun on 19 April 2004) that uses all four scripts: (kanji (red), hiragana (blue), katakana (green), and Latin Alphabet and Arabic numerals (black)):
Finally, there is the Romaji--that is japanese words written with Roman characters. Its transliteration, in effect. At least I don't have to learn this alphabet. But the Japanese don't tend to use Romaji for anything of import. You really only find it in the guidebooks or texts that are trying to teach English speakers how to speak Japanese.
Andrew's Japanese teacher mentioned that you have to learn 94 new characters to master Hiragana and Katakana. That is my goal. That is what they will teach Andrew by January this year.
The average high school graduate would know about 2000 Kanji. I'll be happy if I learn about 50.
Wish us luck!